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Strength-based parenting: How seeing the best in your child brings out the best in everyone

Strengths are a positive common ground where parents and kids can connect—you learn to see and appreciate the best in each other.

Strength-based parenting: How seeing the best in your child brings out the best in everyone

What kind of world would it be if we could fill it with people who have a positive view of themselves, who use their abilities to forge a successful and happy life and who help others do the same? I think it would be more peaceful, more productive, more beautiful and more fun.


That sounds especially attractive these days, as we waken daily to events that seem almost overwhelming. Will our children be adaptable and resourceful enough to navigate and find security in this fast-changing, uncertain world?

Most parents want to raise their kids to be optimistic, resilient, accomplished and caring toward themselves and others. But, our society has a bad case of "right intention, wrong direction.” We try to achieve positive ends through negative means: We criticize, push, cajole and nag our kids about their weaknesses and how they’re falling short of the mark—and end up feeling like bad cop, wet blanket and killjoy all rolled into one.

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Are we so busy raising our kids to be the person society says they should be that we’re not allowing them to grow into the person they actually are?

The good news is that, as parents raising the future generations who will be charged with stewardship of this revolving wonder called Earth, we can directly influence the process, challenge these negative habits and do things differently.

The bonus: We’ll get off the criticism-go-round and have a happier, more harmonious family life.

Strength-based parenting is a new, powerful way to help you notice your child’s strengths and then find natural opportunities for those strengths to be developed—even as part of disciplining your child.

A strength isn’t just something your child is good at. Psychologists have defined three main characteristics of a strength: high performance, high energy and high use. A strength is something your child naturally does well, happily and often. So far, researchers have identified more than 100 strengths—from adaptability to zest—that can be measured and improved.

The key to becoming a strength-based parent is to form the habit of swapping the question “What needs to be fixed?” with “What strengths are needed to handle this situation?” I call it flipping the Strength Switch.

Best of all, you can start today—by noticing a strength in your child and having a conversation about it: Asking your child which of her strengths she might use to solve a problem she’s facing. Letting your child know you appreciate how his strengths help the family. Or doing the “what went well” exercise together by naming three things that went well for your child that day.

Three decades of science confirm the advantages of focusing on strengths. Strength awareness benefits our kids in four ways:

1. It helps kids reach their full potential

People at the top of their field—say, Pulitzer Prize winners or Olympians—don’t excel because they eradicated their weaknesses, but because they’ve learned to maximize their strengths. Our kids’ path to their personal best is through building their strengths. Focusing on weakness takes performance from a low baseline to average. When we focus on strengths, there’s no ceiling.

2. It builds kids’ well-being

Using their strengths to navigate the world is connected to increases in kids’ life satisfaction, confidence and positive emotions. In my research, children and teenagers with strength-based parents are less stressed, better at handling friendship issues, better at meeting homework deadlines, and get better grades—important counterweights to concerns about teen depression, bullying, and underachievement.

3. Kids improve faster when working on strengths

Psychologists call this the multiplier effect. Because our strengths have a genetic component, when we work on improving our strengths, we improve much faster and reach higher milestones than when we work on improving weakness.

4. It fosters a better parent-child connection

In one of my studies, parents felt happier and more confident after just three weeks of strength focus training. Strengths are a positive common ground where parents and kids can connect. You learn to see and appreciate the best in each other. That builds trust and affection. And when tensions arise, it’s easier to remember that your kid isn’t always like this.

Strengths awareness is gaining traction in society. More than 13 million people in more than 100 countries have taken strengths tests such as the Gallup StrengthsFinder, Realise2 and the Values in Action (VIA) Survey. More than half a million children have taken the VIA Youth Survey.

I’ve heard countless stories from kids of strength-based resilience, improved problem-solving, character-building prowess and family bonding:

Before searching for the negatives in something, I seek out the positives. The “what went well” exercise encourages me to do this. My family and I share three “what went wells” each night. My mom even uses it at work!

Learning my strengths made me think about my moods and how I can improve them to be a better person.

I used to let stress and anxiety consume my thoughts. Now I’ve learned to identify the cause of the problem and look for ways to address it.

… And from parents:

We did a strengths profile of our family and put it on the fridge. Now, we know our strengths I create opportunities for the kids to use their strengths at home. I ask Olivia and Jackson to use their zest to welcome guests, while Elijah’s judgment is used to rein in risk. The kids appreciate playing to each others’ strengths within the family.

I love seeing Will’s quiet confidence when he methodically tackles problems. We make eye contact and I see his almost imperceptible nod to say, “I’ve got this,” and my nod back that says, “I know.”

Once kids learn to see their strengths, they can start encouraging them in others. Perhaps with this special kind of awareness spreading through our communities, we can together make this world a stronger, more supportive place.

In This Article

    14 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

    They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

    With fall in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in outside-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

    From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

    Wooden doll stroller

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    Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

    $120

    Detective set

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    This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

    $40

    Sand play set

    Plan Toys sand set

    Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

    $30

    Water play set

    Plan Toys water play set

    Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

    $100

    Mini golf set

    Plan Toys mini golf set

    Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

    $40

    Vintage scooter balance bike

    Janod retro scooter balance bike

    Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

    $121

    Wooden rocking pegasus

    plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

    Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

    $100

    Croquet set

    Plan Toys croquet set

    The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

    $45

    Wooden digital camera

    fathers factory wooden digital camera

    Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

    $179

    Wooden bulldozer toy

    plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

    Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

    $100

    Pull-along hippo

    janod toys pull along hippo toy

    There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

    $33

    Baby forest fox ride-on

    janod toys baby fox ride on

    Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

    $88

    Balance board

    Plan Toys balance board

    Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

    $75

    Meadow ring toss game

    Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

    Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

    $30

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    The one thing your family needs to practice gratitude

    And a tradition you'll want to keep for years.

    Gracious Gobbler

    I think I can speak for well, basically everyone on planet earth when I say things have been a bit stressful lately. Juggling virtual school, work and the weight of worry about all the things, it's increasingly difficult to take even a moment to be grateful and positive these days. It's far easier to fall into a grump cycle, nagging my kids for all the things they didn't do (after being asked nine times), snapping at their bickering and never really acknowledging the good stuff.

    But the truth is, gratitude and appreciation is the kind of medicine we need now more than ever—and not just because the season is upon us. For one thing, practicing gratitude is a scientifically proven way to boost our happiness, health and relationships. More importantly, we need to ensure we're cultivating it in our children even when things are challenging. Especially when things are challenging.

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    Expectant parents do not need to be told to move beyond Jennifer and Jason. Their thinking about names has evolved to the point that the most useful thing we can do is offer a large menu of intriguing choices.

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